James 2:4
Are you not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?—Or, as the sense, fully expressed, would be: “My brethren, if you acted thus, did you not doubt in yourselves, and become by such false and unfaithful discrimination judges of and in your own evil thoughts? Did you not lose the idea of brotherhood, and become contentious as to supremacy of self and place—serving yourselves while prepared for the service of Christ? The Lord Jesus thought not His equality with God a thing ever to be grasped at, if work for man could be done by self-humiliation. Therefore, although being ‘equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead,’ He became ‘inferior . . . as touching His Manhood.’ And none may turn unmoved from that picture of sublime condescension to the petty strifes of quality and position which profane the Christian sanctuary. Most sadly true is it that in making distinctions such as these between rich and poor, we ‘become of the number of those who doubt respecting their faith;’ for, while it abolishes such altogether in the presence of God, we set them up of our own arrogance and pride. ‘We draw nigh unto Him with our mouth, and honour Him with our lips, but our heart is far from Him; and our worship therefore vain.’” (Comp. Isaiah 29:13; Ezekiel 33:31; Matthew 15:8-9.)

2:1-13 Those who profess faith in Christ as the Lord of glory, must not respect persons on account of mere outward circumstances and appearances, in a manner not agreeing with their profession of being disciples of the lowly Jesus. St. James does not here encourage rudeness or disorder: civil respect must be paid; but never such as to influence the proceedings of Christians in disposing of the offices of the church of Christ, or in passing the censures of the church, or in any matter of religion. Questioning ourselves is of great use in every part of the holy life. Let us be more frequent in this, and in every thing take occasion to discourse with our souls. As places of worship cannot be built or maintained without expense, it may be proper that those who contribute thereto should be accommodated accordingly; but were all persons more spiritually-minded, the poor would be treated with more attention that usually is the case in worshipping congregations. A lowly state is most favourable for inward peace and for growth in holiness. God would give to all believers riches and honours of this world, if these would do them good, seeing that he has chosen them to be rich in faith, and made them heirs of his kingdom, which he promised to bestow on all who love him. Consider how often riches lead to vice and mischief, and what great reproaches are thrown upon God and religion, by men of wealth, power, and worldly greatness; and it will make this sin appear very sinful and foolish. The Scripture gives as a law, to love our neighbour as ourselves. This law is a royal law, it comes from the King of kings; and if Christians act unjustly, they are convicted by the law as transgressors. To think that our good deeds will atone for our bad deeds, plainly puts us upon looking for another atonement. According to the covenant of works, one breach of any one command brings a man under condemnation, from which no obedience, past, present, or future, can deliver him. This shows us the happiness of those that are in Christ. We may serve him without slavish fear. God's restraints are not a bondage, but our own corruptions are so. The doom passed upon impenitent sinners at last, will be judgment without mercy. But God deems it his glory and joy, to pardon and bless those who might justly be condemned at his tribunal; and his grace teaches those who partake of his mercy, to copy it in their conduct.Are ye not then partial in yourselves? - Among yourselves. Do you not show that you are partial?

And are become judges of evil thoughts - There has been considerable difference of opinion respecting this passage, yet the sense seems not to be difficult. There are two ideas in it: one is, that they showed by this conduct that they took it upon themselves to be judges, to pronounce on the character of men who were strangers, and on their claims to respect (Compare Matthew 7:1); the other is, that in doing this, they were not guided by just rules, but that they did it under the influence of improper "thoughts." They did it not from benevolence; not from a desire to do justice to all according to their moral character; but from that improper feeling which leads us to show honor to men on account of their external appearance, rather than their real worth. The wrong in the case was in their presuming to "judge" these strangers at all, as they practically did by making this distinction, and then by doing it under the influence of such an unjust rule of judgment. The sense is, that we have no right to form a decisive judgment of men on their first appearance, as we do when we treat one with respect and the other not; and that when we make up our opinion in regard to them, it should be by some other means of judging than the question whether they can wear gold rings, and dress well, or not. Beza and Doddridge render this, "ye become judges who reason ill."

4. Are ye not … partial—literally, "Have ye not made distinctions" or "differences" (so as to prefer one to another)? So in Jude 22.

in yourselves—in your minds, that is, according to your carnal inclination [Grotius].

are become judges of evil thoughts—The Greek words for "judges" and for "partial," are akin in sound and meaning. A similar translation ought therefore to be given to both. Thus, either for "judges," &c. translate, "distinguishers of (that is, according to your) evil thoughts"; or, do ye not partially judge between men, and are become evilly-thinking judges (Mr 7:21)? The "evil thoughts" are in the judges themselves; as in Lu 18:6, the Greek, "judge of injustice," is translated, "unjust judge." Alford and Wahl translate, "Did ye not doubt" (respecting your faith, which is inconsistent with the distinctions made by you between rich and poor)? For the Greek constantly means "doubt" in all the New Testament. So in Jas 1:6, "wavering." Mt 21:21; Ac 10:20; Ro 4:20, "staggered not." The same play on the same kindred words occurs in the Greek of Ro 14:10, 23, "judge … doubteth." The same blame of being a judge, when one ought to be an obeyer, of the law is found in Jas 4:11.

Are ye not then partial in yourselves? Either, are ye not judged in yourselves, convicted by your own consciences of partiality, and accepting men’s persons? Or, have ye not made a difference? viz. out of a corrupt affection rather than a right judgment; and then it falls in with our translation; Are ye not partial? The Greek word is used in this sense, Acts 15:9 Judges 1:22.

And are become judges of evil thoughts; i.e. judges that have evil thoughts, or are evil affected: q.d. You evidence the corruptness of your affections by your thus perversely judging. Are ye not then partial in yourselves,.... That is, guilty of such partiality as must appear to yourselves, and your own consciences must accuse you of; or do not ye distinguish, or make a difference among yourselves, by such a conduct, towards the rich and the poor:

and are become judges of evil thoughts; or "are distinguishers by evil thoughts"; that is, make a distinction between the rich and the poor, by an evil way of thinking, that one is better than the other, and to be preferred before him.

Are ye not then partial in {c} yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

(c) Have you not within yourselves judged one man to be preferred over another (which you should not do) by means of this?

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Jam 2:4 forms the apodosis to Jam 2:2-3, and rebukes what is blameable in the conduct described. Expositors greatly differ in the explanation of this verse, according as they explain the verb διεκρίθητε, and understand οὐ as a pure negation, or as an interrogative particle. It is best to take διεκρίθητε, in form indeed passive, in meaning as the aorist middle, as in Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:23, Romans 4:20, and to give to the verb here the same meaning which it has constantly in the usage of the N. T.; so that it denotes the doubt, which consists in the assertion of thoughts at variance with faith; see on chap. Jam 1:6. But then the sentence must be taken as interrogative: Did you not then doubt among yourselves? i.e., Have ye not fallen into a contradiction with your faith (Jam 2:1), according to which external glory and riches are nothing, whilst ye by your conduct have attached a value to them? To this question the second is added, to which the preceding οὐ is also to be referred: and became ye not (thus) judges of evil thoughts? This second question indicates the direct consequence of διακρίνεσθαι. James calls them κριταί, because in their conduct they expressed their judgment on the rich and poor. The genitive διαλογισμῶν πονηρῶν is not the genitive of object,[113] but of quality. διαλογισμοί is here, as predominantly in the N. T. in malam partem (see especially Luke 5:21-22), thoughts of doubt ana unbelief; the bad meaning is here heightened by πονηρῶν.

[113] Elsner: iniquas istas cogitationes approbastis; Bengel: judices approbatores, malarum cogitationum i. e. divitum, foris splendentium, sed malis cogitationibus sentientium.

Other explanations are as follow:—

(1) διακρίνεσθαι = separare: then the sentence is interrogative; ἐν ἑαυτοῖς = ἐν ἀλλήλοις (Gebser, Schulthess, Semler, Erasmus Schmid, etc.); the verb being either passive: nonne inter vos ipsos estis discreti ac separati? or middle: nonne vos discernitis inter vos ipsos? “Do you not separate, divide yourselves among yourselves?” (Lange).

(2) διακρίνεσθαι = discrimen facere. (a) The verb active—(α) interrogative: nonne discrimen fecistis apud vos ipsos? (Laurentius, Grotius, Wolf, Hottinger, Knapp). In this explanation ἐν ἐαυτοῖς = ἐν ἀλλήλοις; Schneckenburger, however, explains ἐν ἑαυτοῖς = in animis vestris; but then the meaning: discrimen facere, would pass into an act of the judgment, “statuere.” (β) Negative: “Then partly ye would not have distinguished (according to a sound judgment) among yourselves, and partly also ye would have judged after an evil manner of thinking (thus an error of the understanding and of the heart)” (Grashof).—(b) The verb passive: dupliciter peccatis, primo: inter vos ipsos non estis discriminati h. e. cessat piorum et impiorum differentia (Oeder).

(3) διακρίνεσθαι = judicare. (a) The verb active—(α) interrogative: nonne judicastis, deliberastis ipsi? “Are ye not yourselves persuaded how wrong this is?” (Augusti). (β) Negative: non discrevistis justa dubitatione, considerantia et aestimatione, quid tribuendum esset pauperi potius vel certe non minus, quam diviti (Bengel). Luther combines this rendering with that under James 2 : “And ye do not well consider, but ye become judges, and make an evil distinction.” Here also comes in the explanation of Oecumenius: τὸ διακριτικὸν ὑμῶν διφθείρατε, μηδεμίαν συζήτησιν ποιήσαντες πότερον τιμητέονἀλλʼ οὕτως, ἀδιακρίτως, καὶ ἐν προοωποληψίᾳ τὸν μὲν ἐτιμήσατετὸν δὲ ἠτιμάσατε.—(b) The verb passive—(α) interrogative: Nonne vos in conscientiis dijudicati h. e. convicti estis? Paraeus; so also Bouman: nonne igitur in vestris ipsorum jam judicati estis animis? (β) Negative: et dijudicati inter vos ipsos non estis ut judicastis secundum prava ratiocinia vestra (Heisen). Differently Cajetanus: haec faciendo non estis judicati in vestibus et divitiis et paupertate; laying the chief stress on ἐν ἑαυτοῖς.

(4) διακρίνεσθαι = dubitare, to entertain doubts. (a) Interrogative: et non dubitastis apud vosmet ipsos? et facti estis iniqui judices? “Should you not yourselves have entertained doubts? Should you actually have passed evil-minded judgments?” (Theile). (b) Negative: non dubitastis apud animum, ne subiit quidem haec cogitatio, id factum forte malum esse, certo apud vos statuistis id jure ac bene fieri.

All these explanations are untenable, because they proceed upon a meaning of διακρίνεσθαι foreign to the usage of the N. T. Besides, several require arbitrary completions, and many do not correspond to the context. Brückner, de Wette, and Wiesinger have also here correctly maintained the meaning to doubt. De Wette: “Have you not then become doubtful in your faith?” Wiesinger: “Have you not forsaken the law of faith, which recognises only one true riches?” With the reading of B (omitting οὐ) the thought is the same; the interrogative (οὐ), however, serves for the heightening of the thought, the readers themselves being thereby charged to pronounce the judgment. The καί of the Receptus stands as in Mark 10:26, Luke 10:29, 1 Corinthians 5:2, with the question suddenly introduced. Or, since in the N. T. no other passage is found where καί is placed before a question forming the apodosis of a protasis beginning with ἐάν (on 2 Corinthians 2:2, see Meyer), it is to be explained from the fact that one would make Jam 2:4 a part of the protasis; see above.Jam 2:4. οὐ διεκρίθητε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς: “Are ye not divided among yourselves”? The Peshiṭtâ uses the word אתפלג, the same as that used in Luke 11:17. “Every Kingdom divided against itself.” The reference in the verse before us might be to the class distinctions which were thus being made, and which would have the effect of engendering envy and strife, and thus divisions.—κριταί: the Peshiṭtâ has the interesting rendering מפר̈שנא (instead of the usual word for “judge” דינא), which comes from the root meaning “to divide”.—διαλογισμῶν πονηρῶν: Cf. Matthew 15:19, ἐκ τῆς καρδίας ἔρχονται διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί: genitive of quality, “judges with evil surmisings,” viz., of breaking up the unity of the worshippers by differentiating between their worldly status; the writer is very modern! διαλογισμοί is generally used in a bad sense, cf. Luke 5:21-22; Romans 1:21.4. are ye not then partial in yourselves?] The verb is the same as that translated “waver” in chap. James 1:6 and elsewhere, as in Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23; Acts 10:20; Romans 14:23 by “doubt.” Nor is any other meaning, such as that of “making distinctions,” necessary, or admissible, here. “When you acted in this way (the tense assumes that the thing had been actually done) did you not doubt, as others doubt, in your own hearts?” Faith in Christ’s words as to the deceitfulness of riches and the little honour due to them would have kept men from such servility. They shewed by their words and acts that they were half-hearted, or, in St James’s sense of the word, “double-minded.”

judges of evil thoughts?] The construction is the same as that of the English phrase “a man of bad temper,” and is precisely analogous to that rendered “unjust judge” (literally, judge of injustice) in Luke 18:6, and to the “forgetful hearer” or “hearer of forgetfulness” in chap. James 1:25. It means accordingly, “evil-thinking judges.” In acting as they did, men made themselves judges between rich and poor, and with “base reasonings,” or better, perhaps, what we call “base calculations,” gave a preference to the former.Jam 2:4. Καὶ οὐ, nor) If, of Jam 2:2, has its Apodosis in this verse: καὶ οὐ, καὶ, “both ye do not discriminate aright, and.”—οὐ διακρίθητε) Though you make that difference (discrimination) between the rich and the poor, “you do not discriminate” with just hesitation, consideration, and weighing, that which should have been given to the poor man, rather, or at any rate not less, than to the rich. Διεκρίθη occurs in an active sense also in Romans 4:20. Διακρίνεσθαι is used in this passage of James in a good sense. [But Engl. Vers. takes it in a bad sense, and with an interrogation, “Are ye not partial?”] To this compound word the simple κριταὶ is opposed, which word denotes those who settle any subject definitely. Διάκρισις (discrimination) ought to precede κρίσις (judgment); whereas you omit the former and exercise the latter.—κριταὶ διαλογισμῶν πονηρῶν) judges, approvers of evil thoughts: that is, of the rich, who have outward splendour, but abound with evil thoughts. They who honour the rich man in preference to the poor, do not expressly desire to approve of his evil thoughts; but James puts this interpretation upon their conduct, and lays it to their charge, because the rich man in his pomp is full of evil thoughts. The more common sentiment is presupposed as well known.Verse 4. - The copula (καὶ) of the Received Text is certainly spurious. It is found in K, L, but is wanting in א, A, B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic. B also omits the negative οὐ (so Westcott and Herr margin). If this manuscript is followed, the sentence must be read as a direct statement, and not as interrogative. But if (with most manuscripts and editions) the interrogative be retained, the translation is still doubtful. Διεκρίθητε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς may mean:

(1) "Are ye not divided in your own mind?" so the Syriac and R.V., which would imply that this respect of persons showed that they were halting between God and the world - in fact, double-minded.

(2) "Do ye not make distinctions among yourselves?" R.V. margin; this gives an excellent sense, but is wanting in authority, as there appears to be no other instance forthcoming of the passive with this meaning.

(3) "Did you not doubt among yourselves?" this (doubt) is the almost invariable meaning of διακρίναομαι in the New Testament, and the word has already been used in this sense by St. James (James 1:6). Hence this rendering is to be preferred. So Huther, Plumptre, and Farrar, the latter of whom explains the passage as follows: "It shows doubt to act as though Christ had never promised his kingdom to the poor, rich in faith; and wicked reasonings to argue mentally that the poor must be less worthy of honor than the rich." Judges of evil thoughts (κριταὶ διαλογισμῶν πονηρῶν); sc. their own (thoughts), which caused them to respect persons. Thus the phrase is equivalent to "evil-thinking judges." (On the genitive, see Winer, 'Gram. of N. T. Greek,' p. 233; and cf. James 1:25, ἀκροάτης ἐπιλησμονής.) Are ye not partial in yourselves? (οὐ διεκρίθητε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς)

Wrong. The constant sense of the verb in the New Testament is doubt, except Acts 11:2; Jde 1:9, where it means dispute. Compare James 1:6. The meaning here is, therefore, that, in making a distinction between the rich and the poor, they expressed a doubt concerning the faith which they professed, and which abolished such distinctions. Hence, Rev., rightly, Are ye not divided in your own mind?

Judges of evil thoughts (κριταὶ διαλογισμῶν πονηρῶν)

Better, as Rev., "judges with evil thoughts." The form of expression is the same as in Luke 18:6, κριτὴς τῆς ἀδικίας, the judge of injustice, i.e., the unjust judge. So James 1:25, a hearer of forgetfulness. The word thoughts is, rather, reasonings. See on deceiving yourselves (James 1:22). Compare Luke 5:21. Their evil processes of thought lead to these unjust discriminations.

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